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Michel Platini Is Detained in France Over Qatar World Cup Vote

PARIS — Investigators in France detained Michel Platini, the former European soccer federation president, on Tuesday to question him about the awarding of the 2022 men’s World Cup to Qatar, a decision made almost a decade ago that continues to roil the sport.

Platini, 63, met with prosecutors in Paris to discuss the circumstances of his vote for Qatar — a desert nation smaller than Connecticut but with the largest per capita income in the world — over other venues, including the United States. While Platini is not technically under arrest, the nature of his detention meant it was up to the authorities to decide when he would be free to leave.

A spokesman for Platini, citing his lawyer William Bourdon, said that Platini was not under arrest but was being heard as a witness. In a statement, the spokesman said that other matters had also been under discussion, including the awarding of the 2016 European soccer championship to France, a decision made while Platini was in charge of the sport on the continent as UEFA president.

“He has nothing to reproach himself about,” the statement added.

Platini, a French former midfield great who won the Ballon d’Or three times during his playing career, was barred from soccer for four years in 2015 after an investigation into a payment of 2 million Swiss francs, or about $2 million, authorized by Sepp Blatter, the former president of FIFA, the world governing body of soccer. Blatter has also been barred.

The 2010 vote on the hosting rights for the 2018 World Cup, which was granted to Russia, and the 2022 edition, which went to Qatar, had increased scrutiny on FIFA’s decision makers long before an American indictment unmasked corruption at the governing body dating back more than two decades.

More than half of the 22 FIFA administrators involved in the final vote for those World Cup venues have faced accusations of wrongdoing, and many subsequently received bans from soccer.

French investigators have been looking into accusations of corruption connected to bids for the two World Cups for about three years and have spoken to other officials, including Blatter. A separate investigation is continuing in Switzerland, where the authorities have revealed little since they removed troves of data from the Zurich headquarters of FIFA in 2015.

The focus on Platini stems from a lunch at the Élysée Palace with Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French president, a month before the vote to decide where the World Cups would be held. At that meeting, several Qataris, including Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, now the emir of Qatar, were present. That led to speculation in France and elsewhere that Sarkozy, seeking multibillion-dollar contracts for French companies in Qatar, had sought Platini’s support to swing the World Cup vote in the Middle Eastern country’s favor.

Blatter said in a 2015 interview with The Financial Times that Platini had told him ahead of the World Cup vote that he had switched his plans at the behest of Sarkozy.

“I am no longer in your picture because I have been told by the head of state that we should consider the situation of France,” Blatter recalled Platini telling him. The plan had been to vote for Russia and the United States, Blatter said.

Platini has always denied that he was swayed by Sarkozy, whose former chief of staff, Claude Guéant, was also detained for questioning on Tuesday. This month, in an interview with The New York Times, Platini reiterated that the decision to pick Qatar had been his alone.

In the interview, Platini said of the lunch that he had been expecting to have a private meeting with Sarkozy and that he had been surprised when he found the Qataris had also been invited. “I came to tell him face to face that I will choose Qatar and Russia,” Platini said, adding that he immediately contacted Blatter to tell him what had happened. FIFA’s rules, Platini said, meant meetings with bidding nations had to be cleared beforehand.

“After, I called Blatter to tell him I am in big trouble because I have lunch, I didn’t know there were the Qataris at the lunch with Sarkozy,” he added. The French authorities previously questioned Platini in December 2017.

Platini has said he was considering voting for the United States to host the World Cup. But he ultimately backed Qatar, even though billions of dollars of infrastructure would be needed to allow the Middle Eastern nation to host the event. FIFA’s own inspectors had deemed that the summer temperatures there would be dangerous.

But Platini said he picked Qatar to give the Arab world a chance to host soccer’s showpiece for the first time, after previous bids from Morocco and Egypt had failed.

“It’s seven times the Arabs have lost the World Cup,” he said.

After the vote, FIFA decided to upend a soccer calendar that had been in place since 1930, switching the dates of the World Cup in 2022 to winter, avoiding the sweltering summer temperatures in the Middle East but causing mayhem for European soccer leagues, which will have three seasons disrupted because of the change.

Qatar’s bid team faced accusations of wrongdoing before and after the decision to grant the country the World Cup was taken. The country’s leaders have consistently denied acting improperly and regularly point to a two-year FIFA investigation that failed to find evidence that it had cheated.

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